Local Government
Cities Should Act More Like Amazon to Better Serve Their Citizens

Cities Should Act More Like Amazon to Better Serve Their Citizens

By Stephen Goldsmith & Neil Kleiman.

The following is an excerpt from A New City O/S: The Power of Open, Collaborative, and Distributed Government, by Stephen Goldsmith and Neil Kleiman. A New City O/S argues that our system of government must evolve to meet the needs of a digital world. The book describes a new government “operating system” that serves much the same function as the last iOS your iPhone made you install: It incorporates innovative technology and a user-oriented design to provide the utmost in efficiency, responsiveness, and functionality.

It seems quite simple and seamless. You click a button on Amazon and an article of clothing appears at your house. Behind the friction-free experience, however, is a highly complex system built on a savvy mix of data and coordination of many different organizations. A vendor used analytics to decide which items to offer to customers and where and how to digitally display them. Amazon created an online shopping experience customized for you, built with information from diverse sources about your specific needs and priorities. Other shoppers shared their opinions about the product on a platform designed to aid your final decision. UPS, after it received the shipping request from Amazon, used its mapping and logistics software to configure the most efficient delivery route to your house, which it conveyed to the driver on his mobile device. A third-party payment platform handled the credit card information, and the credit card company then divided your payment between Amazon and the vendor.

The many pieces of this highly distributed system are held together by data organized to produce a keen understanding of, and great experience for, the customer. The greater the knowledge, the better the decisions. So why would anyone settle for the old days, when shopping took so much more time and when information was so much more limited?

Contrast this retail experience to how relatively little information municipal leaders have at their fingertips when making decisions and furnishing services. The citizens who are the ostensible customers are almost never consulted about what they want, when they want it, or how it will be delivered. Then again, neither are other city agencies that often have a perspective on the issue, nor experts such as professors at local universities who study the issue, and best practices. City government isn’t making plans and programs in a pitch-black room, but it’s awfully dark in there.

Read the full story at Next City.

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